DoD Briefing with Brig. Gen. Wiggins from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, good afternoon. It's been four months since the president's announcement and the change of strategy in Iraq. The fifth and final surge brigade has arrived in Baghdad, and we expect it to be fully operational capable by the middle of next month.
We're starting to see a shift in momentum that comes with having additional ground forces on the ground, and the refinement of our operational approach has garnered greater support and situational awareness in various areas throughout Baghdad and in and around Iraq.
We're continuing to search for our missing soldiers, and our determination and resolve to locate our missing soldiers is unwavering. We're conducting well over 100 patrols a day, and that in conjunction with our intelligence-driven operations, we are in hopes of finding our soldiers.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit has arrived in theater. They're off-loading personnel and equipment, and we expect them to move north into the Anbar province and expect them to be operational on or about the middle of next month as well.
In western Iraq's Anbar province, we continue to see overall violence levels drop significantly. The Iraqi army soldiers, as far as recruitment and volunteers, is increasing, and we expect to have 500 Iraqi army soldiers graduating from the basic training facility in Habbaniya. And they'll be assigned to the 7th Iraqi Army Division, which is located in the Anbar province. We are going to expand the graduating class -- the next graduating class in Habbaniya to 1,000, and that's based on the volunteer rates increasing in the Anbar province, which is positive news.
We're experiencing increased levels of support from local Iraqis as well throughout the other areas of Iraq. A number of you have already reported on the 41 kidnap victims that were kidnapped by al Qaeda, and they were found in an al Qaeda hideout near Baqubah. What's important about this is this rescue was made possible by the tip that was provided by an Iraqi citizen, and we are continuing to receive actionable tips from Iraqi citizens.
Al Qaeda continues to use vehicle- and suicide-borne improvised explosive devices as the weapons of choice. These particular indiscriminate killers, as well as mass-casualty producing weapons, are seen as success through the eyes of al Qaeda, and we have found more and more that, although they're unable to reach their primary targets, they will pick secondary targets such as funeral processions, markets and mosques as their targets to create the mass casualties.
In Afghanistan, we continue on the offensive against the Taliban. We think that we have got the Taliban on their heels. And as a result of a number of operations, we have basically -- the Taliban has suffered numerous losses and has suffered losses to their senior leadership over this past month.
We feel as though we’ve seized the initiative from the Taliban, but, you know, this summer will tell as they've completed the poppy harvest season and as they continue to try to go on the offensive. They have reverted to asymmetric-type, small-scale, high-profile attacks, but this has not resonated with the Afghan people, and we've actually had initial indications that some Afghan leaders, as well as Iraqi -- Afghan citizens -- excuse me -- have actually turned against the Taliban in regards to these types of attacks.
With that, I'll be happy to take any questions that you might have.
Q General, with the second and third IBs coming in, do you expect that they will roam generally to the Baghdad area or was there going to be an effort to quell some of the violence that's been popping up in some of the other regions? You also mentioned -- sounded sort of a positive tone in a shift in momentum. Can you give us any specifics?
GEN. WIGGINS: Yeah. With regards -- you know the tactical commander makes the ultimate decisions with regards to forces' disposition on the ground. But that being said, there are -- of course you hear about the northern belts and the southern belts that General Petraeus talks about and getting at those, because that's areas where insurgents have had the opportunity to sit back and plan some of these attacks from those areas and then move on in to Baghdad and perpetrate their attacks.
In this particular case what we're trying to do, through the clear, hold and retain, is take those particular areas away from the insurgents and the al Qaeda, make it more difficult for them to travel, at least freely. And so some of those forces will stretch, of course, in Baghdad, where we need those forces. But I'm sure, as we talked about the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit as well going out to the Anbar province, there are areas where the al Qaeda and insurgents in the past we've gone in, we've cleared the area with very little resistance from those particular -- the enemy, and then when we pull out, they move back in. In this particular case, we are starting to be able to retain, through the use of our Iraqi security force partners that's building credibility in their capabilities with the Iraqi people. And we're seeing that through these increased tips that are coming from the Iraqi people not only to our forces, but also to the Iraqi security forces. And that's an extremely positive sign.
Q Do you have any information or details about the five British citizens kidnapped yesterday in Baghdad? Do you know where are they?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, to tell you the truth, I don't know exactly where they're at. But I can tell you that -- and I know General Petraeus just talked about this -- we're searching just as intently as we would for our own soldiers, and they are searching a number of areas. I don't want to necessarily put that out for operational purposes.
But we're aware of the five British citizens that were kidnapped. We also are aware of the report that these particular individuals were wearing uniforms with patches that had the Ministry of Interior, as well as vehicles marked with the same type of markings. But other than that, what's already been released, I do not have any additional information at this time.
Q What does it tell you that when they kidnapped these British contractors that they drove 19 Interior Ministry vehicles into Sadr City? Does that tell you that the Interior Ministry was somehow in cahoots with the kidnappers?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I don't want to speculate. I'm sure there's an investigation going on with this, just as there was in a previous similar type incident. But I'm sure once they investigate, both the Iraqi government as well as our forces, and they get the facts out, we'll get those facts. But right now, I don't have any of the facts.
Q You talked about momentum again at the very beginning. But what's the actual trend you're seeing of -- in Baghdad, in Diyala in terms of sectarian murders, sectarian violence, car bombs, how's that trend looking?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I know General Pace spoke on this a little bit at -- you know, back in January we had 1,400 deaths. And it's hard to quantify exactly what caused these particular deaths. But with that being said, we're down to -- the past -- two previous months, to about 500. So we're down about 40 percent in Baghdad, and throughout the remainder of Iraq down to 20 percent. So we're seeing a decrease. Of course we know that al Qaeda and their associated elements understand that that's being used as a tool for measurement by a number of folks, and so they're pressing hard as well, and they have a vote. So we're pushing hard. And as I stated, on a number of occasions where they have been unable to reach what we believe is their primary target, they have basically abdicated to a target that produces mass casualties in high numbers, and those have been funeral processions, mosques as well as markets.
Q Given all of that -- if I could just follow up for one second -- now May is turning out to be one of the deadliest months of the war actually for U.S. troops. I'm wondering if you have an assessment as to, number one, why that is; and what are you seeing also in terms of Iranian-style weapons, EFPs and/or other Iranian- style weapons coming into Iraq?
GEN. WIGGINS: With regards to the first part of your question, first and foremost, it's been a tough month. But realize, please, that these numbers are associated with a service member and to a family. And so with that being said, my sympathies and our prayers go out to those family members of the lost service members.
You know, we're operating in and around Baghdad in greater numbers now with Fard al-Qanun. The operational risks were, I believe, stated up front by General Petraeus when we first discussed this plan, that getting out and among the Iraqi people in concert with the Iraqi security forces was important to build credibility in the Iraqi security forces capabilities. And that gives that operational space and security in order to conduct their self-governance.
We also understand that the enemy is continuing to work on understanding how we do business, and that it's important for us to get out in front of the enemy. But you know, it is -- we're working hard. In this particular case, we're continuing to get at it.
We're moving into places where we haven't been, not necessarily before but we haven't been and stayed with the frequency that we're staying in these areas now. And there are some areas where in the past, as I stated, the enemy elected to just move on out, wait till we departed and come back in. In this particular case, they're finding that harder to do.
And the fact that we're retaining these areas, we're setting up checkpoints throughout Baghdad. And therefore they're finding it harder to get back in. They're finding it harder to get out. And therefore we're having more contacts with the enemy.
Q And Iran?
GEN. WIGGINS: With regard to Iran, there is technology, and the Qods Force members -- we understand that there is technology and there is training that's being conducted by Iranian Qods Forces in Iraq. And we're starting to see some of the technology pieces show up in Afghanistan as well. As far as the leadership involvement with Iraq, I mean, with Iran, we still haven't been able determine it. We know it's at the Qods Force level.
Q You said that violence is continuing to drop significantly in Anbar province. Could you put numbers on that for us, perhaps compare it to this month last year and say what it all means? Because as Barbara pointed out, it's been one of the highest casualty months for the U.S. over there.
GEN. WIGGINS: Attacks were down by 50 percent over the past few months. I don't know if I can necessarily have the numbers off the top of my head to go back and take a look as opposed to a year ago. But attacks are down by 50 percent.
Q Where did they start at? And what is 50 percent of that?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, we're just talking about the past few months, I think, in relation to basically when we started to see the Anbar tribal leaders start to take the fight to the al Qaeda units.
Q (Off mike) -- that's sort of meaningless. I mean, it could be, there were 10 attacks; now there's five. Or were there 500 --
GEN. WIGGINS: I'd have to get with you and give you those numbers. I don't have them here readily with me.
Q You mentioned, in your opening statement, al Qaeda's continuing responsibility for the spectacular bombings. Do you have any sense of percentages, even broadly, what part of the IED, VBIED attacks are attributed to al Qaeda, what percentage to the Sunni insurgency and which to the Shi'a faction? And what does that tell us about the state of the war today?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, no, sir, I don't know if we have those numbers to basically break it out by those different factions. But what I can tell you is, you know, they continue -- their success is not necessarily whether they can explode an IED. Their success is whether they can get the high-profile type of attacks associated with killing innocent people.
So it's fairly easy to emplace an IED when you don't have to worry about collateral damage or what necessarily your target is. If you don't -- if you're not going to discern between civilians or military when you blow that thing up, you know, I think that's a fairly simple weapon to use, and it has been and continues to be their weapon of choice by virtue of every time they blow one up, it seems to get attention, and that seems to be their reasoning for using this particular --
Q But -- but -- but if I could follow up, sir, please. When you say "they," I mean, from this podium we're always told that there are several wars going on. That's a very nuanced and fine thought. So who is the "they"? I mean, who is killing the most Iraqis? Who's killing the most coalition forces with IEDs and VBIEDs -- al Qaeda, the Sunnis or Shi'as?
GEN. WIGGINS: I think we can obviously say that the suicide and the vehicle-borne, the preponderance of those are al Qaeda, okay, but I don't have specific numbers. I would just say, it's in my opinion that most of those that are perpetrated we've associated with al Qaeda. You can't get down to specifics. That's a difficult thing to track, and I don't think we have those numbers.
Q General, on the casualties it's already been pointed out that May is one of the deadliest months, and the president himself has predicted a bloody summer, especially in August. Does the command have a sense of when or a plan for when either the situation will come under control and these casualties will go down, or there may have to be a re-examination of strategy again?
GEN. WIGGINS: Yes, sir. I can tell you that General Petraeus being the tactical commander down range, I don't want to get out in front of him, but I know that probably in September when he comes and we listen to his assessment will probably be that -- I don't know. I can tell you that I think General Petraeus will have an indicator on the maneuvers in his assessment when he gives it in September, I think, is what -- what I'd recommend, we wait on it.
Q So you're saying you're sort of expecting a similar level of casualties for the next several months. There's no particular expectation of a change.
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, sir, I can tell you that we continually adjust and we continue to provide force protection measures for our soldiers. And that being said, we're going to continue to fight now that we have our full complement of surge brigades in Baghdad. We're going to continue on with the clear, hold, retain and establishment of the joint security stations and the combat outposts throughout Baghdad in order to mitigate the freedom of maneuver of these -- of al Qaeda and the insurgents.
So we're going to continue to get at it. We're going to continue to provide the necessary support for our soldiers to provide them extra protection, and we're going to continue to adjust RTTPs in order to provide that force protection as well.
Q As more U.S. troops move out to the communities and interact with Iraqis and that death totals from the U.S. goes up, have you seen an increase in the number of escalation-of-force incidents?
GEN. WIGGINS: You know, I have not. And that's not to say that they don't go on. We do investigate those when they do happen, but I have not seen an increase in escalation-of-force incidents.
Q So it's remained steady throughout the surge?
GEN. WIGGINS: From what I've seen.
Q Sir, you provided a total attack number on change for Anbar province. Could you tell us what the trends in total attacks have been in Baghdad and in Diyala?
GEN. WIGGINS: I can tell you that in Baghdad we've -- the attacks have kind of risen slightly, but it's not a trend, it's a -- there are spikes. And those are associated with these high-profile attacks where they go out and blow up a bomb that creates 15 to 11 casualties among the civilian population at a time. And the particular example is the mosque bombings here recently, where we had several civilians killed in a bombing of a mosque. So right now we're seeing, like I said, a -- not necessarily a trend and an increase, but we see spikes periodically in the attacks that are perpetrated by al Qaeda and the insurgents.
Q Sir, do you have any numbers for Baghdad, Diyala, for nationwide? There was a GAO report earlier this month that said there was little or no change in daily attacks, that they averaged about 150 nationwide and that had continued from the first of the year through April. Do you have any figures, sir, on where this trend is going?
GEN. WIGGINS: I'll have to -- I'll have to go and get the figures and take a look and see if we have those figures and provide those to you. But I don't have --
Q You said there was a spike, though. Can you quantify the spike at all? As you said, 50 percent decline in Anbar. What's the spike in Baghdad?
GEN. WIGGINS: I'm saying that periodically -- there's no trend; that what we have is no attacks or we have a steady state attack and then you have a high profile attack, which makes it look like there is a(n) increase in the number of attacks, but not necessarily.
Q You said there was a spike right now.
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, there's not. I'm saying that there are spikes, and those are associated with your high-profile attacks.
Q So what is it in Baghdad and Diyala, just to follow up? Can you quantify it for us? As you said, there's a 50 percent decline in Anbar.
Can you give us a comparative number in Baghdad and Diyala?
GEN. WIGGINS: Yeah, and like I said, I don't have those numbers right off the top of my head. I'll have to get those back to you. But -- yes, ma'am.
Q You -- just to clarify, you will provide the total attack numbers for Baghdad (before ?) and how it has changed over the last few months as well as for Diyala?
GEN. WIGGINS: Ma'am, I told you, I'd get back with you with the trend of where we're at on a basic average of attacks. And I'll see what we have and when we can provide that back to you.
Q Is that today?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I'd have to figure out when we can get the information and get that to you.
Q Question about Afghanistan. You said the Taliban is "on its heels." Can you tell us what series of developments leads you to that conclusion?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I can tell you, sir, that we've gone on the offensive this year as opposed to in the past and getting into the -- taking the initiative away from the Taliban. In this particular case, we've been able to take the offensive in the south and in the east to the Taliban, inflicting numerous losses on them and their forces as well as taking and killing a number of their senior leadership. One of those of note which I talked about the last time I was up here was Mullah Dadullah Lang. There are several others that we have killed as well that we think will, although not cripple them, will set them back for a period of time.
And as I also said, you know, the poppy harvest is over, so we expect that at some point in time, that those that were involved with that will now join the fight. So the fight's not over, but we are able to take the offensive. We'll continue to take the offensive through several of the operations we have in Afghanistan and hopefully inflict, continue to inflict casualties on the Taliban.
Q You mentioned (examples ?) of success and you mentioned numbers of tips. Can you detail the change in the number of tips, and can you point to other concrete, specific data that suggest to you some positive trends?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I mentioned the one with regard to the 41 that we rescued. There are also actual tips out there that have led to caches, that have led to bomb-making IED cells. To get specific, I don't have those specifics in the numbers, but I know that they're on the rise as we build credibility in the Iraqi security force capabilities, and these people are coming forward. And it's not just in Ar Ramadi or Anbar province, Salahuddin; it's in other regions as well.
Q Are there other broad measures of success that you would point to?
GEN. WIGGINS: You know, we're doing it with slow but steady progress.
I mean, the Iraqi security forces' capabilities, and their capabilities are a positive note as well. You know, right now the Iraqi army forces are in the lead in all provinces, with the exception of the Anbar province. And that's due in large part basically to the recruiting piece, which we're getting at. And so that's a positive sign.
And that's -- we'll continue to build on the Iraqi security forces, because ultimately in this clear, hold and retain, we plan on turning over these areas to the Iraqi security forces at some point in time.
Q You've talked about increasing Iraqi forces. We've heard varying numbers over time. As a whole, across the country as a whole, can you say how much more of an increase you all want in the number of Iraqi security forces?
GEN. WIGGINS: No, ma'am. That's probably something better discussed with Multinational Force Iraq, because they understand the conditions on the ground and what's required and what's necessary. And I know that that's a continual assessment by General Petraeus and his folks with all the operations on the ground. So I mean --
Q You talk specifically about Anbar and wanting to increase from 500 to a thousand the number of graduates there. You don't have some similar ideas about how you want to grow the force overall?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, I know that there's a plan out there, and I know that Multinational Force Iraq is working that plan, and they're working the recruiting piece. And as I said, I think they'd probably be the best. They could probably give you the accurate answer on where they are with any adjustments.
Q As you look at these attack trends that you're going to look into, first, can you -- also, do you have any indications on the trend specifically in IEDs?
GEN. WIGGINS: As in -- in what, for clarification? In the trend --
Q Oh, well, in terms of the number of IED attacks however you measure it -- per week, per day. Since we've seen such a rise in U.S. casualty rates, do you have any -- are IED attacks on the rise or decline or steady --
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know, IED attacks, from what I've seen, are pretty much steady across the board in the number of IED attacks over the past several months. The fact that their TTPs are getting more advanced and -- requires us to adjust accordingly -- that is out there. And --
Q I'd just ask you -- a lot of people don't know what TTPs are. Are what --
GEN. WIGGINS: Tactics, techniques and procedures that they use to employ those systems.
Q And you saying that they're -- in the last couple of months that they've improved or changed --
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you know, we have seen a tactics, technique and procedure whereby they have not just responded to an initial IED, but you know, they set it up for first responders.
That's not new. That's something that's been out there, but it's something that they're continuing to refine. And that's what I was saying, that we got to stay out in front of that and that we continually address -- adjust our techniques in order to increase the survivability and protection to our troops and our soldiers.
Q The attack yesterday in Diyala with the helicopter and then the two Bradleys that were struck, was that a coordinated ambush in the sense that the chopper was brought down to lure our forces in, or was that just a matter of circumstance?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, that particular incident is under investigation, but I can tell you, in the past they have some pretty detailed tactics, techniques and procedures with regards to helicopters. I think General Simmons spoke on that not too long ago with regards to having heavy machine guns mounted in the back of vehicles, and then using the heavy machine guns in concert with shoulder-fired weapons systems in order to bring down the helicopters. I don't know, and I'm sure as soon as the investigation comes out that we'll get more facts, we'll be able to talk the specific incident involving the 58.
But what I can tell you is, is that we continue to adjust our flight maneuvering and our routes in order to not become predictable and in order to make it more difficult for them to execute their TTPs. But it does look like this was a complex attack.
Q General Simmons indicated that the cell that had been primarily responsible for the earlier shoot-down has been pretty much exterminated. Is this a sign that the techniques have been passed on to other groups or that this information sharing has been going on, or is this more of the same style, any information you have on that?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, and like I told you, I'm sure the investigation will prove that through. I'm sure that just like with any other thing, the IEDs as well as how they address the shoot-downs of air helicopters, is something that's not just specific for one specific group. So I'm sure that that's some training piece that's out there, but I don't want to speculate on this particular incident, and I'm sure that once they get more fidelity on what exactly happened with this incident they'll probably be forthcoming.
STAFF: We've got time for one or two more.
Q You handed over control of three Kurdish cities today to Iraqis. Are you still on track for the fall to hand over all the provinces, as Major General Caldwell said earlier this year?
GEN. WIGGINS: Well, you're talking about the provincial Iraqi control of the three Kurdish pieces up to the north. As you probably can remember, there was another date associated with that particular Iraqi control. And so I will tell you that we're on track as of right now, but you know, conditions change and commanders on the ground got to make their assessment to determine whether the conditions are right for provincial Iraqi control of the other provinces.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thanks.